Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Follow Russia's lead, “Then, dear friends, there would be no need for new refugee camps.”

Is this a glimpse of the Putin strategy? Take a look:

Refugee Crisis in Europe Prompts Western Engagement in Syria
[...] France, which backed the idea of airstrikes against the Syrian government after accusing it of conducting chemical weapons attacks two years ago, is now carrying out airstrikes against his enemies on the battlefield, hitting Islamic State forces. The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said Wednesday that France was open to the military operations of Mr. Assad’s main ally, Russia, so long as Mr. Assad’s air force stopped using barrel bombs and he was willing to agree to a political transition.

Secretary of State John Kerry echoed the need for political talks on Syria, saying at the Security Council on Wednesday that Mr. Assad would have to “decline to be part of its long-term future.”

Even on the question of Mr. Assad’s departure, there has been a discernible shift. Western diplomats on the Security Council are saying that Mr. Assad would not have to step down right away, but rather at the end of a political transition process. They are also taking pains to say that, having learned from the experience of Iraq, they are keen to avoid a wholesale purge of his government, preferring to sideline “tens, not hundreds,” of his associates, as one Security Council diplomat put it, to maintain stability.

Another Council diplomat said that dismantling Mr. Assad’s army would be far too risky in the face of the threat posed by the Islamic State.

The refugee crisis has become such a central element in the political calculus that it has been used as a rhetorical mortar to lob at rivals.

When the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, called on his Western rivals this week to join his country and the Syrian government to defeat the Islamic State, he clearly poked at European concerns, saying, “Then, dear friends, there would be no need for new refugee camps.” [...]
But would the refugees go back, with Assad still in power? Because the Syrian rebels are not going to win this one. Russia is making sure of that:

Vladimir Putin defies West as Russia bomb 'Syrian rebel targets instead of Isil' - live updates

And who will aid the Syrian rebels? No one. If some sort of peace plan is brokered, would any of the refugees return to Syria? Would the flood of refugees leaving cease? Who knows. I imagine it would depend on the specifics of the plan, and if Assad was still in power. Not all the refugees were rebels, and there are even different rebel groups, that fight with each other. Anyway, we shall see what happens...

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"Constructive. Business-like. Surprisingly frank."

Kerry says US may offer Russia 'something' to keep Assad from dropping barrel bombs: UN debate live
[...] Constructive. Business-like. Surprisingly frank.

Those are the diplomatic euphemisms Vladimir Putin used to describe his meeting with Barack Obama on Monday night, and it says a lot about the dire state of US-Russian relations that they sounded positive.

But it also says a lot about the awkward personal dynamic between Mr Putin and Mr Obama. For no matter what their spin doctors say, there can rarely have been two world leaders so obviously physically uncomfortable in one another’s presence.

It is not even like the geopolitical relationship between their two countries, a previously perfectly workable if strained partnership until it fell apart with the Ukraine crisis. To put it diplomatically, Mr Obama and Mr Putin have just never quite "gelled"....

Maybe there is a basis for understanding. Undisguised mutual dislike, frank disagreement on Ukraine, and a business-like recognition that it is much safer to argue about Syria than do anything about it.

And maybe Mr Putin is not wrong. After all, a frank discussion of interests and demands is a decent starting point for a deal, even on a problem as intractable as Syria. Perhaps Monday's meeting was, in some sense, constructive after all. [...]

The US has withdrawn troops from the Middle East, and failed to support Syrian Rebels in any meaningful way. That left a vacuum, and Russia is filling it. Putin knows nobody has the will to help the rebels. Russia is allied with Syria and Iran. Putin is doing this because... he can.

So if we aren't going to fight it, do we work with it? Some say that Russia is not the enemy. Even if that is true, they are not automatically our friends, either. Perhaps they are our "Frenemy". America has lots of those, and we work with them from time to time. Will this be one of those times? Should it be? I couldn't say if it should. I think it may become one of those times by default, simply because no one is willing to do anything else. At any rate, we shall see.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

What IS a "Spanish" Guitar?

As opposed to just a "regular" guitar? I've often wondered, so I looked it up:

What is the difference between Spanish guitar and acoustic guitar?

Both "Spanish" guitars and acoustic guitars are acoustic instruments, generally made of tone woods, usually consisting of spruce or cedar tops, mahogany or rosewood backs (or often cypress for Flamenco), and many other varieties.

Both usually have a range of scale (playing length of the strings) from about 609.6mm (24") to about 650mm (25.6"). Let's not dwell on the other similarities since they're obvious from the picture.

String Material: Well the strings of course. Steel or other metals for acoustic, nylon for Spanish. One cannot simply put steel strings on a classical or nylon strings on an acoustic (see why in String Tension below).

Wider neck on Spanish: Most acoustic guitars have a neck width at the nut (where the neck meets the head) of about 42mm (approx 1-11/16") to about 45mm (approx 1-3/4"). Classical and flamenco guitars are closer to 2" wide (approx 49-52mm). This may seem trivial, but it makes a significant difference.

Neck to Body: In most modern acoustics, the neck meets the body on the 14th fret. Most Spanish guitars, it is on the 12th fret. Therefore the bridge (body end of the strings) is set back farther from the sound hole on most classical and flamencos (you can see this on the picture).

String Tension: Acoustic guitars must be built stronger, because the tension of the metal strings is approximately twice that of nylon. This is done with bracing. Any acoustic guitar top must be thin enough to resonate, but so thin that the top alone could not hold it together against the string tension. The bracing adds strength with a goal of minimal damping of resonance. Bracing patterns vary widely, but most Spanish guitars use "fan bracing" and most acoustics use "X bracing." [...]
Who knew? Read the whole thing for more details. I think the nylon strings on a Spanish/Classical guitar would be easier on the fingers. I find the metal strings on a regular acoustic guitar rather painful.

This short video explains the differences well:

The video that starts playing right after this one has a young guy explaining some more differences, which is interesting. Watch that one too if you want to know more. (or open it here.)

Russia, Syria, and ... a coalition?

Might it make sense in the larger picture? And if not, what is the alternative? Consider this:

Putin jockeying for deal with US on Syria
MOSCOW (AP) — Signs of an ongoing Russian military buildup in Syria have drawn U.S. concerns and raised questions of whether Moscow plans to enter the conflict. President Vladimir Putin has been coy on the subject, saying Russia is weighing various options, a statement that has fueled suspicions about the Kremlin's intentions.


Since the Soviet times, Russia has had close political and military ties with Syria, which hosts a Russian navy facility in the Mediterranean port of Tartus intended to service and supply visiting ships. While the Soviet-era facility has just a couple of floating piers along with a few rusting repair shops and depots, it has symbolic importance as the last remaining Russian military outpost outside the former Soviet Union.

Moscow has staunchly backed Syrian President Bashar Assad throughout the nation's 4 ½-year civil war, providing his regime with weapons and keeping military advisers in Syria. Putin said again Friday that Russia is providing the Syrian military with weapons and training.

Rami Abdurrahman, the head of the Britain-based monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said there have been reports since mid-August of Russian troops in the capital's airport and another airport in the coastal city of Latakia.

"We don't know if they are troops or transporters of weapons and ammunition," he said, noting an increase in the flow of Russian weapons arriving in Syria since July.


Alexander Golts, an independent military analyst, said Putin sees joining the anti-IS coalition as a chance to reach rapprochement with the West. "Russia has found itself in isolation, which has been increasingly felt," he said.

He said the latest reports about the movements of troops and military cargo to Syria appeared to demonstrate Moscow's readiness to join the coalition, falling short of a big-size deployment.

Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based analyst who specializes in military and security issues, said that the apparent increase in the Russian presence in Syria could be part of Kremlin efforts to raise the pressure on the U.S. to accept Putin's plan.

"Such a coalition ... would allow Assad's regime to survive and allow Russia to maintain its presence in the Middle East," he said.

If Russia ends up sending its military contingent to Syria, it will likely include a few combat jets along with support personnel and some troops to guard them, Felgenhauer said. Staying away from ground action would allow Russia to avoid any significant losses.

Alexei Malashenko, a Middle East expert with the Carnegie Endowment's Moscow office, was skeptical, saying that Putin's apparent plan to use Syria to improve ties with the West will be unlikely to succeed.

He warned that if Russia fails to strike a deal with the U.S. and tries to do it alone alongside Assad's forces, it would further damage its relations not just with the U.S. but regional powers. It will also likely trigger a negative public response, providing a painful reminder of the botched Soviet war in Afghanistan.

"It will not be received with joy here in Russia; everyone will compare it to Afghanistan," he said. "If they do it, it would be a very stupid thing. It's very simple to get in, but it could be quite difficult to get out."

Malashenko also warned that deploying Russian soldiers to fight the IS would draw risks of retaliation and raise the terror threat for Russia.

While launching unilateral action would be extremely risky, it's difficult to predict how Putin will act if his offer of joint action against the IS is rejected by Washington, Malashenko said.

"Putin is unpredictable, and he is very emotional," he said
I don't really understand what Russia is doing, and I'm not sure anyone does. But the sooner the war in Syria ends, the better. The instability there if fueling ISIS and the flow of refugees. If working with Putin could undermine ISIS and bring the war to an end, it would be worth considering. In the larger picture, it might make more sense. Read the whole thing for links and more.

Also see:
Who are these Russian fighters posting pics of themselves in Syria?

UPDATE: Look at this:
Germany's Merkel sees need to cooperate with Russia on Syria

Read the article. I think Angela knows which way the wind is blowing. I'm with her on this. But will Obama get on board?

Friday, September 11, 2015

Syrian Refugees and Trojan Horses

America’s Reckless Refuge for Jihad
On the anniversary week of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President Obama is rolling out the welcome mat to tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees. What could go wrong?

There’s no need to hypothesize. Our nation remains utterly incapable of screening out legitimate dreamers from destroyers, liberty-seekers from liberty-stiflers. Indiscriminate asylum and refugee policies rob the truly deserving of an opportunity for freedom — and threaten our national security.

It’s shameful that our leaders in Washington, sworn to uphold and defend our Constitution and our people, suffer chronic amnesia about the fatal consequences of open borders. I’ll keep reprinting my reminders. Maybe someday someone in a position of power will pay heed, throw political correctness out the window, and stop hitting the snooze button.

Have you forgotten? Boston jihadist brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev received dubious asylum status through their parents thanks to lax vetting. After entering on short-term tourist visas, their mother and father (an ethnic Chechen Muslim) won asylum and acquired U.S. citizenship. Next, younger son Dzhokhar obtained U.S. citizenship. Older son Tamerlan, whose naturalization application was pending, traveled freely between the U.S. and the jihad recruitment zone of Dagestan, Russia, a year before executing their Boston Marathon massacre. Though they had convinced the U.S. that they faced deadly persecution, the Tsarnaevs’ parents both had returned to their native land and were there when their sons perpetrated their bloody terror rampage. [...]
Read the whole thing. It goes on to list the many, many others.

Some might say it's racist not to take the refugees. But is it racist when other Muslims refuse? Explain this:

Muslim Countries Refuse to Take A Single Syrian Refugee, Cite Risk of Exposure to Terrorism

Five of the wealthiest Muslim countries have taken no Syrian refugees in at all, arguing that doing so would open them up to the risk of terrorism. Although the oil rich countries have handed over aid money, Britain has donated more than Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar combined.
[...] Yet amidst cries for Europe to do more, it has transpired that of the five wealthiest countries on the Arabian Peninsula, that is, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain, not one has taken in a single refugee from Syria. Instead, they have argued that accepting large numbers of Syrians is a threat to their safety, as terrorists could be hiding within an influx of people. Sherif Elsayid-Ali, Amnesty International’s Head of Refugee and Migrants’ Rights, has slammed their inaction as “shameful”.

He said: “The records of Gulf countries is absolutely appalling, in terms of actually showing compassion and sharing the responsibility of this crisis… It is a disgrace.” None of the Gulf States signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, which legally defines a refugee as “A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality”. However, they have taken refugees in the past.

Twenty-five years ago, hundreds of thousands of Kuwaitis fleeing Saddam Hussein’s invasion were given refuge. According to Arabian expert Sultan Sooud al-Qassemi: “in Abu Dhabi, the government rented out entire apartment blocks and gave them to families for free.” [...]
But not this time. Even though the majority of Syrian refugees are Sunnis, the same religion as the Wealthy Arab states. But those states don't want them because of terrorism. However, they are good enough for US to take?

All the host countries of the refugees would like to think that the refugees will assimilate and get jobs and contribute to the welfare and culture of their host countries. But will they work and contribute to the general welfare, or just sign up for welfare and plot destruction? It looks like we are going to find out the hard way.

Read the whole thing for embedded links and more.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Naked Chicks ... that Glow

This is creepy:

Glowing in the dark, GMO chickens shed light on bird flu fight
In the realm of avian research, the chicks with the glow-in-the-dark beaks and feet might one day rock the poultry world.

British scientists say they have genetically modified chickens in a bid to block bird flu and that early experiments show promise for fighting off the disease that has devastated the U.S. poultry and egg industries.

Their research, which has been backed by the UK government and top chicken companies, could potentially prevent repeats of this year's wipeout: 48 million chickens and turkeys killed because of the disease since December in the United States alone.

But these promising chickens - injected with a fluorescent protein to distinguish them from normal birds in experiments - won't likely gatecrash their way into poultry production any time soon. Health regulators around the world have yet to approve any animals bred as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for use in food because of long-standing safety and environmental concerns.

Bird flu has become a global concern among researchers over the past decade because of its threat to poultry and human health, and UK researchers have been toiling in genetic engineering for years to control its spread.

People who are in close contact with infected poultry are most at risk for flu infections, and scientists are concerned about the risk for a human pandemic if the virus infects someone and then mutates. No humans have been infected in the latest U.S. outbreak, but there have been cases in Asia in recent years.

"The public is obviously aware of these outbreaks when they're reported and wondering why there's not more done to control it," said Laurence Tiley, a senior lecturer in molecular virology at the University of Cambridge, who is involved in the experiments.


At Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh's Roslin Institute, scientists are using genetic engineering to try to control bird flu in two ways: by blocking initial infections in egg-laying chickens and preventing birds from transmitting the virus if they become infected.


To genetically engineer chickens, the UK researchers inject a "decoy" gene into a cluster of cells on the yolk of a newly laid egg. The egg will hatch into a chick containing the decoy gene, which it will be able to pass on to its offspring.

The decoy gene is injected into the chicken chromosome alongside the fluorescent protein that makes the birds glow under ultraviolet light, similar to glow-in-the-dark posters in college dorm rooms. The birds would not be bred to glow if they are commercialized.

When the modified birds come into contact with the flu, their genetic code is designed to trick the virus into copying the decoy and to inhibit the virus' ability to reproduce itself.

In one study with a form of decoy, scientists put 16 infected conventional chickens in contact with a mixture of 16 normal and 16 GMO chickens that contained a decoy. The GMO birds were found to be less susceptible and succumbed to infection more slowly than the conventional birds, said Tiley.


A more flu-resistant bird could be a notable advance from the basic steps that farmers now rely on to avoid infections in barns, including banning visitors and disinfecting vehicle wheels.

Wild ducks, which can carry the virus, are thought to have spread the disease in the United States by dropping contaminated feces and feathers on farms. Humans can then transport the disease on their boots and trucks. [...]
I wish I could be more enthusiastic. The problem is, when you start genetically modifying plants or animals, you may solve a problem in the short term. But in the longer term, you may be creating bigger problems, caused by unforeseen side effects of deliberate genetic modifications, and by worse threats from diseases/insects predators that evolve themselves or change their behavior to adapt to the new genetically altered plant/animal.

Scientists may keep altering the plant or animal in response, till it becomes so modified from the original that it becomes degraded and vulnerable to something the original never had a problem with. And if the genetically modified mix with the originals, that vulnerability spreads to all of them. Our food supply could die out.

With so many people experiencing unemployment, we would be better off using people to go back to smaller farms using tried and true methods that don't degrade our food supply. But I don't see that happening, because:

1.) Agribusiness wants to keep their monopoly.
2.) Farming is hard work, and most people in advanced Western societies won't do it.

So we do the easy thing and let this continue, only to pay a worse price down the road. There has to be a better way.


Is the Republican Party Dying, or Morphing?

America, you're watching the beginning of the end of the Republican Party
The beginning of the end of the Republican Party has started. On Friday, I told you the Republican Party is dying. Then, yesterday, Ross Douthat in the New York Times echoed my key point.

Mine was that the Republican leaders in Washington would see the decline of Donald Trump as proof that they need do nothing to change. Like the Bourbons of France, they’d forget nothing and learn nothing.

On Sunday, Douthat wrote, “In an unhealthy system, the kind I suspect we inhabit, the Republicans will find a way to crush Trump without adapting to his message. In which case the pressure the Donald has tapped will continue to build — and when it bursts, the G.O.P. as we know it may go with it.”

Yes, exactly. The Republican Party is dying because the GOP in DC has gone corporate and K Street. They attack any Republicans who dare hold them to their promises. They’ve gone to war against Heritage Action for America, Club For Growth, the Madison Project, etc. They’ve blackballed any political consultant who does work for outsiders.


In short, the GOP has become so incestuous it continues to hemorrhage and will die. It cannot adapt because the key consultants it has shaping its future are wedded to the capital that comes from not changing.

It should be eye opening to the Republican leaders in Washinton that Ross Douthat and I have come to the same conclusion — they will not recognize the need to change and will therefore die.
Die? At this point I think that may be more Democrat wishfull thinking than reality. Unless you mean the death of the party as we know it. I think it's actually trying to find itself, and morph into something else:

The End of the Republican Party?
[...] I think I should clarify that I meant that “as we know it” to be the crucial wording. I don’t think the Republicans are about to literally go the way of the Whigs; a party that’s spent the Obama years gaining power in Congress and doing very well indeed at the state and local level isn’t likely to dissolve anytime soon.

But a party can exist as an entity, indeed a powerful entity, while also undergoing a kind of nervous breakdown, from which a new “self” eventually emerges. That happened to the Democrats beginning in 1968, with the gulf between George Wallace, Democrat-turned-independent, and George McGovern, Obama forerunner and landslide loser, illustrating the underlying identity crisis pretty well.

What’s happening to the Republican Party is different in many ways, of course. But what we saw in the 2012 primary — the attempted rejection of Mitt Romney by populists desperate for an alternative — and what we’re seeing now in the polls that show Trump and Ben Carson temporarily lapping the 2016 field are suggestive of a similarly-wide gap between the party as conceived of at the elite level (the party of Mitt and Jeb, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, the party of the old fiscal/social/hawkish conservative three-legged stool) and what its actual voters think the party ought to be.

And here the Trump phenomenon is particularly instructive, because it’s revealed the true complexity of Republican divisions in a way that now-Cain, now-Bachmann, now-Santorum quest for a right-wing not-Romney in 2012 did not. Over the last few election cycles we’ve become accustomed to a narrative of Republican civil war that pits the G.O.P. establishment against its base, and liberals especially have become fond of depicting the G.O.P.’s development as a simple-enough matter of a once-mainstream party allowing itself to be pulled steadily rightward by its extreme, revanchist voters and activists.

This narrative has always been too pat, but in current polling you can see some of the strongest evidence for it insufficiency: The Republican Party’s basic problem right now is that the party’s own voters really, really don’t like it, but more than that they dislike it for a wide variety of different reasons, in ways that don’t map neatly onto what we’re accustomed to thinking of as the Republican divisions of the past.


But what we see happening now is at the very least clear evidence that the right-of-center electorate is ripe to be split by a third party spoiler, or multiple such spoilers over the next few cycles, in which case the Republican losing streak in presidential elections could be easily extended from five of six to eight of nine. And electoral considerations aside, it’s also evidence that the percentage of Republican voters who want, as Newt Gingrich might say, a fundamentally different national-level G.O.P. than the one we have, is reaching a level where fundamental transformation might become inevitable.

Domenech has his fears about what this might betoken; I’m a little less pessimistic. But the reality is that none of us know. The Republican Party isn’t going anywhere. But what the Republican Party is actually going to be, come the presidential campaign of 2024, is a very open question.
The Republicans need to unite in a coalition around core principles and issues that resonate with a majority of voters, that they can rally around. Instead it continues to fight with itself and remain fractured. If that continues, it could die eventually. But not today. Hopefully it will find itself and be reborn as something more viable and stronger.

Read the whole of both articles for embedded links and more.